It's done--again. Keith Jackson, like Michael Jordan, porn star Janine, and Walter Mondale, has announced his second unconvincing retirement from his profession. Keith's been edging into incoherence for years now, but the internet's made it even harder for ABC to cloak his long, slow slide into the applesauce and crunchy plastic pants years--since now you may email a whole focus group of your peers to verify that, yes, he really did call Jason White "Jack Mildren" in the late third quarter. The capper came in his grandfatherly and utterly addled patter during this year's Rose Bowl. Keith alternately got names wrong, miscounted time-outs, and ran at least a step and a half behind the action while Dan Fouts ran interference and tried not to spoil the Old Testament-awesome sight of Vince Young raining fire, frogs, and pestilence on USC.
And we'd be lying if we said we could remember Keith at his best. In fact, we don't really get the retirement since our primary heroes in the broadcasting business have always been:
c.) deranged homers
d.) all of the above
In case you want an argument as to why announcers should be one of these (or in the gifted case of Harry Caray, the whole shebang,) take the gilded name of Joe Buck, the sanctimonious forehead whose bad punnery and "wit" nearly spoil the superb analytical work Troy Aikman does at his side. Buck is not only not Methuselah-old, he's irritatingly sober on the air. Say what you will about the weekly Musbergame in the fall, but one thing remains certain: a man who cracks a beer in a car and then jokes about getting ticketed for it is definitely fine announcer material, as well as a guy you could obviously drink with after the game, which is all anyone really wants from the crusty play-by-play guy anyway. Joe Buck, on the other hand, sounds like a guy you'd get into a fight with at a church league softball game--and pound until his wife pulled you off of him.
The Blueprint: Harry, seen here in 1993 preparing to vomit up a pitcher of martinis and Vance Law's career.
With that said, Keith--like William Butler Yeats in his "rag and bone shop of the heart" period--did have more than a handful late-life moments of eccentric greatness. Here's our two favorites.
1. Big Ol' Leg. Keith, as with all announcers weaned on field-position football, had a special affection for the punters and long snappers who made it all possible. The highest appelation indicating Keith's esteem was saying in his Georgia drawl that the punter "had a BIG OL LEHHHHHHHGGG." He'd draw it out in the baritone that stayed golden well past his critical faculties did, speeding up through the middle and leaning on the last word for a good one and a half seconds. Never failed to make us smile the same smile we'd get when our own grandfather would say the phrase "Get on out of here" in a single, unmistakeable syllable: "HITONOUTTAHEYAH!!!" Or when he'd do things like fall asleep while driving or in the middle of eating a stack of six slices of country ham. You know, the funny grandpa vibe.
2. Airplanes, Dan. Airplanes. This had to be from the OU-UCLA game in 2003, a 59-24 giggler that had Dan and Keith reading the rules of bridge to keep viewers awake. This territory kills lesser broadcasters in their prime, often forcing them to comb the stands for the most obvious displays of public tittery or sleeping children in between long, uncomfortable silences; for the declining Jackson, it was a deathtrap, and he waltzed right into it when the obligatory blimp shots above Los Angeles.
Keith: Our overhead shots today are brought to us courtesy of Goodyear Tires and the Goodyear blimp. Man oh man, have they changed things...fly from one city to the next...it's just a whole lot different than it used to be, Dan.
Dan: Um...(long, long silence)...you mean blimps?
Keith: Airplanes, Dan. Airplanes.
The first thing that leapt to our mind: Ronald Reagan calling his memoirs "trees." Unless Keith was remembering sharing a gin rickey with Myrna Loy on the Hindenburg's Goebbels deck in 1932, we're pretty sure Keith was conflating all forms of air transportation into a single word--which is a moment of senile greatness right up there with Harry Caray calling Lenny Dykstra "Richie Ashburn" in during a game in 1993. He even lost the ever-game Fouts, who completely surrendered to the incomprehension in this case.
Airplanes, Dan. Airplanes.